China and Inner Asia
This innovative session will critically examine vocabularies of media and technology in Chinese language contexts. Mindful of their incommensurabilities with their English counterparts, we will listen to what these keywords reveal about contemporary Chinese social lives. With China’s developing technological capabilities in 5G, artificial intelligence, data infrastructure, censorship, surveillance, and digital transactions densely imbricated in super-power politics and everyday life, we assemble a group of Chinese media/technology experts who work in both Chinese and English to mine language gaps that indicate discrepant ideological contexts. Emerging from China’s xuanchuan era (1949-79) dominated by top-down “propaganda,” we find ourselves on the brink of societal transformations accelerated by highly participatory media. Neologisms such as “fanqiang” - a colloquialism that refers to surmounting China's Great Firewall - flourish alongside practices of “zimeiti” (translatable as “we-media” or “self-media”) and the internet activism of “wangmin” or netizens. How, we ask, is mediated life lived idiosyncratically in language environments saturated by such terms, environments that disaggregate into official, academic, mass media and vernacular domains?
Our participants represent a range of fields, from anthropology, media and communications to science and technology studies. We convene cultural studies scholars from institutions in Beijing and Shanghai, those with extensive ethnographic fieldwork across China, as well as former journalists now working in interactive media. All of us operate in transnational settings that cut across the US and China, reflecting the largely globalizing character of contemporary media counterpointed by national strategies such as China’s soft power initiatives.
Informed by the decolonizing move of “detranslating,” or retaining words in the original Chinese, we emphasize idiomatic usages while noting the potential epistemic violence of reshaping meanings through translation. As participants, we will put keywords on the table and immediately facilitate discussion that synergizes divergent audience input. In tandem, we will encourage attendees to offer lexicons from their research and interlocutions. Inviting competing perspectives based on diverse exposures and methodological orientations, we will pursue a multiplex, even contested, grasp of how these words signify to their users. Collaborative knowledge production will engage all attendees in cumulatively mapping and historicizing China’s media and technology worlds.